January 12, 2006

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy "Summer In the Southeast"

Ah, the live album! Often the bane of reviewers, a cash-in for labels, and a tossed-off contractual obligation for artists, there are plenty of quite justified reasons to be cynical about such a release, especially considering very few artists understand--or appreciate--the art of the show. Load in, tune up, sound check, smoke a little weed, crack a fart with the drummer, set up the T-shirts, call the wife, take a dump, get some cheap food paid for with the lazy promoter's food buyout, play 'the hits,' cash your drink tickets, get your pay, then get drunk while hipsters talk to you--it's enough to make an indie-rocker not want to try. Where's the love?

Will Oldham is--and has been, and will forever be--a very special guy. He's a guy who plays by his own rules, and even though the curmudgeon aspect of his personality is well-known about fans, unlike other indie-rock grumps, he never lets his personality override his performance. Though he doesn't tour as much as he used to, the dude's a much-loved live act, and his reputation for delivering powerful perfomances is well-deserved, and just because he doesn't want to hang out with you afterwards shouldn't--and doesn't--take anything away from his utterly moving and wonderful stage presence. Considering his hardcore fans swap recordings of his live shows in the same manner as Deadheads, one wonders why it's taken him so long to release a live album.

There's no real reason to apply the reasons to hate live albums to Oldham's latest offering. Oldham's studio recordings are often stark, barren wisps of things that change radically when performed live, and Summer in the Southeast not only captures Oldham in excellent form, it also wonderfully captures the power of his live performance. Instead of simply giving the listener a complete show, he has compiled highlights of his most recent tour. This particular set finds Oldham and his six-piece band revisiting highlights from his storied solo career, with a few highlights from his Palace era. The recording is good, the band is both tight and loose, the energy is electric, Oldham's singing is powerful, especially on "Master and Everyone," "May It Always Be,"and "Even If Love." The true winner is "O Let It Be," which finds the band running on full steam, creating one hell of a powerful rock number--only hinted at in the studio recording. That the recording is somewhat hazy and that Oldham occasionally falls away from the microphone on the high points is no matter; that's part of the magic.

And that's the great thing about Summer in the Southwest--it accurately captures Oldham at his best, and it shows that even his best studio recordings only hint at their total power. Live recordings may not always capture the "you are there" element very well, but that's certainly not the case here. A powerful document of an excellent musician. And you didn't have to deal with a roomful of annoying hipsters to enjoy it...thanks, Mr. Oldham!

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.bonnieprincebilly.com
Label Website: http://www.dragcity.com

No comments: